A THOROUGHLY entertaining game saw three goals, three red cards and, most importantly, three points for Darlington to end their wretched run of results.

After seven matches without success, Quakers finally came up trumps, beating FC United of Manchester 3-0 and they did so by showing an enormous test of character.

Being reduced to ten men just before the break when it was 0-0 - Kevin Burgess shown a red card for rash challenge – meant Darlington were up against it.

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However, Martin Gray’s men showed resilience and a clinical edge that has been lacking in recent weeks to seal a deserved win that moves them up four places to 11th.

They found the net three times inside 45 minutes – as many as they had scored in their previous seven winless games.

“It was so important to win tonight, we had to win,” admitted Gray, whose team are at home to South Shields in the FA Cup on Saturday.

“We showed great character and mental strength because we could quite easily lost when it was ten men against 11 with 45 minutes to play.

“We regrouped at half-time, changed formation, changed personnel, which was the right thing to do as we had a good shape about ourselves off the ball.”

Gray handed midfielder Joe Wheatley a first start, the former Middlesbrough youngster one of three changes with Liam Marrs and Burgess returning, their availability a big boost to Darlington given their recent run of results.

They bolstered the defence, allowing David Ferguson to resume a role on the left of midfield where he was an asset in the early weeks of the season.

But Burgess handed Quakers a scare, however, 14 minutes in when he required lengthy treatment after colliding with Tom Greaves, the United striker attempting to chase a long pass.

Quakers’ captain was able to continue, however, returning to the pitch just after goalkeeper Adam Bartlett made a flying save as the visitors tried a corner routine once very familiar at Old Trafford.

Left-back Danny Wisdom took the Paul Scholes role, his volley from 12 yards when meeting the delivery tipped over by Bartlett.

Wheatley grew into the contest, playing his part in a team attempting to pass the ball around in the opposition half.

His stand-out delivery was a raking ball, Turnbull-esque, out to the left wing for David Ferguson, demonstrating an eye for a pass and the confidence to pull it off.

Dom Collins kept his place after hobbling off on Saturday with a groin strain, and he missed a chance after a short corner routine - a rarity for Darlington – when he headed wide, before fellow centre-back Burgess had the ball in the net after a Terry Galbraith free-kick.

However, the assistant referee said Darlington were offside.

Marrs made a goalline clearance to stop Jordan Fagbola’s header after a corner, preventing Darlington going a goal down, but they were soon a man down when Burgess was red-carded.

He went through Scott Kay, excessive force no doubt being referee John Matthews’ reasoning.

“It’s a straight red,” admitted Gray. “It’s a challenge that, in this day and age is not allowed. I’m very disappointed.”

Burgess later apologised on social media, but his team-mates reacted positively, while in a bold move Gray kept both strikers – Mark Beck and Cartman - on the pitch, instead replacing Gillies with Dave Syers, and it paid dividends.

Darlington went ahead on 53 minutes and it was the classic big man, little man combination at play, Cartman showing his predatory instincts to volley home after Beck knocked down a Turnbull free-kick.

A goal but also a man down, Darlington needed a second to give them a cushion.

They looked like getting it too, when Matthew Hughes was sent off for a second booking, tripping Wheatley in the penalty area, but Terry Galbraith saw his spot-kick saved.

United rallied, Steve Irwin firing in a long-range effort that Bartlett tipped over, but Darlington never looked in danger against ten men.

Ferguson shrugged off two of them before making it 2-0. He picked up the ball 35 yards out, ran past a couple of challenges before underneath the goalkeeper, giving Darlington a healthy lead.

FC United went ahead in the number of dismissals, however, Mike Connor receiving his second booking - their eighth of the night – when he lashed out at Wheatley, who had been involved throughout.

Fittingly, he had the final say, scoring at close-range after Turnbull passed for Ferguson to cross.

It should have been more as Darlington exploited the gaps in United’s nine-man team, but Stephen Thompson’s shot was too weak.

Disillusionment has set in among some fans, the attendance the club’s lowest in the league for 18 months, with recent result no doubt a huge factor, but those that stayed away missed a cracking night’s entertainment.